Scam 1: I’ll Need the Money Up Front
This is the most common ruse reported to the Better Business Bureau. Your contractor explains that because he has to order materials and rent earth moving equipment to get the job started, he needs project price up front. Once you’ve forked over the dough, one of two things happens: He disappears on you, or he starts doing shady work knowing that you can’t really fire him because he’s sitting on all the money already.
How to protect yourself: Never prepay more than 50% of the job total, enough to establish that you’re a serious customer so the contractor can work you into his schedule .
Scam 2: Take My Word For It
When you first meet with the contractor, he’s very agreeable about doing everything exactly to your specifications and even suggests his own extra touches and upgrades. Some of the details don’t make it into the contract or bid, but you figure it doesn’t matter because you had such a clear verbal understanding.
Pretty soon, you notice that the extras you’d discussed aren’t being built. When you confront the contractor, he tells you that he didn’t include those features in his price, so you’ll have to live without them or come up additional money to redo the work.
How to protect yourself: Make sure everything you’ve agreed on is written into the project description. Add any items that are missing, put your initials next to each addition, and have the contractor initial it too.
Scam 3: I Don’t a Permit
You’re legally required to get a building permit for any significant construction project. That allows building officials to visit the site periodically to confirm that the work meets safety codes.
On small interior jobs, an unlicensed contractor may try to skirt the rule by telling you that authorities won’t notice.
How to protect yourself: Always demand that the contractor get a building permit if needed. Yes, it informs the local tax assessor about your upgrade, but it weeds out unlicensed contractors and gives you the added protection of an independent assessment of the work.
Scam 4: Unforeseen Problems
The job is already under way, perhaps even complete, when this one hits. Suddenly your contractor informs you that the agreed-upon price has skyrocketed. He blames the discovery of structural problems, like a missing beam or water damage, or design changes that you made after the job began.
The additional fees might very well be legit, but some unscrupulous contractors bid jobs low to get the work and then find excuses to jack up the price later.
How to protect yourself: Before signing the contract, make sure it includes a procedure for change orders, mini-contracts containing a work description and a fixed price for anything that gets added to the job in progress. The extra work, whether it’s related to unforeseen building issues or homeowner changes, can proceed only after the change order is signed by both homeowner and contractor.